“I don’t know how you did things in the Tyrian Tanks or Praesidia, but us Ignis frontliners put our barriers up from start and don’t take them down until the mission is over.” The red haired soldier wriggled the spacesuit over his shoulders as he talked.
Nethan was the frontliner in team 2, which was the team currently on prim duty, had light red hair in a short mohawk cut, and was sporting a moustache that went straight down on both sides of his chin. He was almost one head shorter than Haylen himself, but Haylen wouldn’t be surprised if Nethan matched him weightwise. The man was built like a concrete bunker.
As they were in the locker room, changing clothes to the thermoregulating ones that was used under the spacesuits, the older soldier had given Haylen a quick run over about the combat formations and movement they used on the Ignis, and was now adding some house rules.
“Our snipers feed us info on what’s ahead, using vision and audio amps. Our scouts have cloak and stealth devices so they can get behind enemy lines, fetch things, plant stuff, you name it. Use them.”
“Got it”, Haylen said, looking at Felicia and Keith in acknowledgement.
“Questions? Thoughts?” Nethan began strapping on his body armor.
Haylen took a moment to process the info while he untied his hair to quickly braid it instead, tucking it in under his collar before zipping up the space suit. The Tyrian Tanks had never engaged combat without their force field up, and during those years it had become a reflex, like unsecuring your weapon or fastening your seat belt.
The T9 upgrades had changed things though. Energywise it wasn’t much of a problem, but the longer he kept the barriers up, the more likely he’d be out with a migraine after; not to mention that the extended ones meant the risk of neurofrying. When he was working for Praesidia, he hadn’t been using barriers at all except when necessary, which basically meant being under direct fire.
He hadn’t tried to hide this when he applied to the Ignis crew, but he had also said that upholding a simple body barrier for a few hours wasn’t going to be a problem. He hoped he wasn’t going to prove himself wrong. Not that he was going to air those thoughts now. The last thing he wanted was to give these people any reasons to doubt his abilities. If things went to hell, though… well. He’d cross that bridge when he got to it.
“No questions”, he answered eventually, and started donning his legguards.
“Good. Oh, right, another thing”, Nethan remembered, clicking his shoulderguards in place. “We don’t whirl around too much. Our prancers behind will take care of that.”
“Screw you, Nethan,” Olena chuckled at the locker next to Haylen, and Nethan grinned at her before looking at Haylen again.
“Seriously though, we’re there to take the bullets first and most, keeping the enemy busy so the other soldiers can take them out properly. It’s a rather obvious tactic, but it works.”
“Got it,” said Haylen again, adjusting his body armor. It wasn’t that much different from what he had been doing in his former teams. The main task for the Tyrian Tanks had been just that. Human tanks. Meat shields. Or more precisely, amp force barrier-composite armor-meat shields.
“You’ll do fine, don’t worry”, Nethan said and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
Haylen didn’t really know how to react to that. For a starter, he wasn’t used to be touched in a friendly manner by people he hardly knew. He and Ziva had shared bed in the literal, platonic meaning quite a few times, but other than that, neither of them had physical contact willingly. Two years with the Praesidia and he had completely forgotten how to human…
Secondly, he wasn’t worried. At least he didn’t think he was. At least not about what Nethan probably thought he was worried about.
– – –
“Team 2, you’re going in first”, captain Avril said as the shuttle made its way towards the space station where the distress call had come from. “Apparently, one of the workers has gone tilt, and he is armed. They have tasers and smaller hand tools on these stations, so he will be able to cause lethal damage. You’re all to use shock bolts unless I say so, meaning all clips pocketed from start.”
She looked them over, making sure no one had clips loaded. The standard gun had a stunner mode that fired small electric clusters, aside from the regular projectile mode that could fire sponging or piercing bullets.
“It’s a zero grav station, so mind your movement. Shuttle is six o’clock, floor will be marked.”
Most stations without artificial gravity had markings for the ‘floor’, mainly to give people something to navigate from. They had air and pressure in them as well, but task forces were to use spacesuits anyway, in case something would happen.
“Docking in 45 seconds”, the shuttle pilot said on the comm.
“Don’t release your seat belts until we’re docked”, the captain said sharply, looking at Tianyi.
The soldier looked up at her, one buckle open. “On the Argentum, we always released moments before the-”
“I don’t care how you did it on the Argentum, you stay belted until we’re docked. Besides, your team isn’t going in first anyway.”
“Alright then, you’re the captain.” Tianyi seemed perfectly unaffected by the captain’s glare as she fastened her belt again.
“Helmets on. Help each other. I don’t want anyone having their lungs implode in case this madman decides to vent the whole station while we’re still inside.”
Haylen put his helmet on, connecting it to the air tubes, then clicked the breather piece in place over his face and locked the visor. Inhale. Air flooded through as it should. He then helped Felicia, who was sitting next to him, to check for leakage.
Tianyi and Keith seemed to have found each other from start, joking and chatting, but Santo and Felicia hadn’t said much so far. Haylen had a feeling they were watching him, to see if he would live up to his predecessor’s level, or perhaps the reputation of the Tyrian Tanks. But at least Felicia checked his helmet in return with professional care, and they both gave captain Avril a thumbs up. No actively sabotaging. Good start.
“Testing general comm”, Avril said. The comm system automatically went open channel without button pressing in close range, so people could have normal conversations even with breather helmets, but to send messages to all the crew or private ones, you had to flip a switch on your wristband.
After they all had answered her test calls in turn, there was a quiver as the shuttle connected with the station, and the airlocks hissed.
“Alright, team 2, prepare to move in. Team 1, stand by.”
They all unbuckled their seat belts, and made their way into the shuttle’s airlock. The hatch closed behind them, and they held on to the handles to not float around while they waited for clearance to enter the station’s connecting passage. Eventually, the outer airlock hatch opened and so did the connector door.
“Go.” Captain Avril waved team 2 forth.
With Nethan up front, they made their way through the short connector while the connector door and the shuttle hatch both closed. Through the windows, they could see Talus start to hack the lock to the inner station door, using the standard lock pick device the Union Task Forces used. The door slid open. Nethan pushed himself through, the rest followed, and the door closed again.
For a while, there was silence on the comm. Then Nethan told them they had found two terrified station workers hiding in the kitchenette. The tilt had locked himself up in the control room with the remaining three, using a taser and a knife tool to keep them in check. He had also made strangle attempts on two of them. The workers weren’t sure what he wanted, if anything, or what had led to the suspected psychosis.
“Stay put. I’m sending in team 1. When they reach to you, you make your way into the control room. Be careful.”
She looked sternly at team 1. “I want no hero moves from you newbodies. You’re the backup and will let team 2 do their thing until they require your assist. Understood?”
A unison “Yes captain” from Haylen, Tianyi and Leon didn’t soften the look on her, but she seemed content with the answer at least.
“Take the opportunity to study how they work together”, she said, even if it was clear to at least Haylen that the main reason for team 1 to join this mission at all was for the new meats to see how things were done. A tilt on a small research station like this shouldn’t take more than one team to handle. “Anyone who’s not ready? Alright then. Team 1, go.”
Haylen activated his force barrier and moved through the corridor first, and Keith opened the door for him. They met team 2 where the corridors to the different rooms connected. Nethan pointed out the direction, and went first towards the control room, followed by the rest of his group. Team 1 mimicked their movement, frontliner first, flanked by two soldiers in a row on each side.
Haylen was nervous now, he couldn’t deny it. Not about the tilt, or the possible fighting, but how the hell he would handle this Union soldier thing again.
Pretty silly, wasn’t it. Being a combatant in the Gamma wars’ most violent and gruesome years, the elite of the elite, and later on working for one of the toughest security companies in this quadrant, all of it had hardened him. He had seen so much cruelty and horrors that barely nothing could make him very upset or uneasy anymore, and he rarely shunned away from threats.
But joining a new team in a new organisation with new routines and new comrades – that was scary? Come on. He could almost hear Ziva snort scornful at him.
Then again. He was back in the Union Armed Forces after an involuntary leave, imprinted on the one-person-island mindset that ruled the private sector, and with malfunctioning amps on top of it, without knowing if there even was any Union soldier material left in him. Maybe he had reasons to be silly nervous after all.
No hero moves, was it. Chill cap, dis new meat be goin’ low. Besides, it had been a long time since he last had been counted as a hero, right.
At the end of the corridor, Talus hacked open the lock on the door to the control room. Naturally, they couldn’t hear anything from inside, partly due to their thick helmets but also because all walls and doors were thick enough to withstand hull breaks or faulting airlocks. If something happened, each room was sealed off, providing safety for the people inside it until help arrived.
As the door opened, Haylen could see the force field around Nethan intensify, and the soldier moved forward, gun ready but pointing in downwards, followed by the flanking soldiers. Haylen and his team stayed where they were.
“No, no, this is not… this is not…” they heard someone say in the control room, followed by some incomprehensible rambling.
“Hey buddy”, Nethan said, calmly, and stopped himself by grabbing a handle in the middle of the room, staying in Haylen’s sight. “Put away your weapons, please. I don’t want you to hurt yourself or anyone else.”
“No no no, no, I can’t, you’re… this is not…”
“It’s alright. I know you’re not feeling great right now, but I’m here to help you.”
It was a little surprising to hear Nethan talk in this way. Sure, he had come off as an easy going person so far, but also as the veteran soldier he was, rough on the edges and with a brutal sense of humor. This empathic and friendly manners were unexpected. Haylen had been in similar situations, but he didn’t think he had been even close to Nethan’s casual approach.
“Go, please go…”
“I’ll wait right here. You put away the taser and the knife, then you can follow me to my shuttle. I’ll take you home, okay?”
“No… no, no, this is not, this is not…”
A terrified yelp was heard and the flankers of team 2 all raised their weapons, but Nethan held out a hand behind him, and put his own weapon on his back. Team 1 also braced themselves, Santo looking at Haylen for input, but Haylen held up his hand too. He watched Nethan and the other soldiers, since he still couldn’t see the tilt.
“That’s your co-worker”, said Nethan. “He hasn’t done anything wrong, I assure you. He’s trapped here too. Please let him go.”
“But this is… this is not…”
“I know. Something’s wrong here. That’s why I’ve come to take you home. You don’t have to stay here another minute. My shuttle is at the airlock. You and I can leave right now.”
They could hear the tilt’s suppressed sobbing now. Haylen tensed and readied his gun, glancing at the others to make sure they did the same. The psychotic worker would either give in or do something radical, he was fairly sure. The soldiers of team 2 slowly made their way to the sides of the room.
Eventually, they heard relieved sounds from the workers, and Nethan quickly moved forwards. Haylen signed to his team to follow and they made their way to the door.
“There, I got you.” Nethan had taken hold of the tilt, a man in his fifties with an absent look on him, weeping in a suffocated kind of way. Nethan was putting handcuffs around the man’s wrists. “I’m taking you home now. I’m sorry I have to restrain you, but you must understand it’s for both your own and other people’s safety.”
The other soldiers of team 2 were taking care of the other three workers, one of them with a small cut on her neck.
“I take it you got the situation under control?” captain Avril said on the comm.
Nethan looked over at Haylen, gesturing at him to answer that.
“Affirmative. Target’s cuffed, only minor injuries among the station workers.”
“Alright, get the tilt onboard. I’m coming in to talk to the station staff, and I’m taking the medics with me.”
So, no hero moves made. Which meant no showing off other skills then a basic barrier and his ability to do as he was told. No signs of migraine yet either. All in all, it seemed he had passed his first day on the new job. Always something.